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Back-to-School Shopping: How Parents Will Do It This Year — And What They’ll Spend

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Back-to-school shopping can cost a pretty penny, so it’s no surprise that parents put serious thought into the process.

In fact, a new survey from Tokyo-based e-commerce platform Rakuten finds that the majority (34%) of back-to-school shoppers in the U.S. expect to spend between $250 and $500 this year. Here are more findings from Rakuten.

Parents split on shopping in-store, online

With the easing of COVID-19 restrictions in certain parts of the U.S., 64% of parents with grade school, high school and college students plan to return to brick-and-mortar stores to do at least some of their back-to-school shopping. Meanwhile, 63% of parents will be doing at least some of their shopping online.

Here’s the full breakdown:

  • Half in-store, half online (27%)
  • Most online (25%)
  • Most in-store (24%)
  • All in-store (13%)
  • All online (11%)

The survey finds the highest percentage of consumers — 36% — were planning to start their back-to-school shopping in July, which means they’re underway. That was followed by:

  • August (31%)
  • June (14%)
  • Before June (12%)
  • September (6%)
  • After September (1%)

Social media, advertising influence buying decisions

The survey finds that social influencers can impact many parents. In fact, nearly 3 in 4 (74%) parents have bought something through a link or image posted by a social media influencer. Parents, the survey finds, prefer Instagram (27%) and Facebook (25%).

Traditional advertising can also influence parents’ decisions on what back-to-school items to buy. Besides their children’s requests, a quarter of parents will lean on online, traditional TV or streaming TV advertisements for shopping inspiration.

Raring to spend — but only if there’s a deal

Parents seem ready to spend on back-to-school items, especially after a year of remote learning for many.

While the majority (34%) of parents plan on shelling out $250 to $500 on back-to-school items, here’s how much others intend to spend:

  • $0 to $250 (26%)
  • $500 to $1,000 (23%)
  • $1,000 to $2,000 (12%)
  • More than $2,000 (4%)

The top three items on lists are:

  • Backpacks, notebooks, pens and pencils (27%)
  • Clothing (24%)
  • Hygiene and items such as masks, hand sanitizers and tissues (23%)

While parents are ready to open their wallets to dole out some dough on back-to-school essentials, they remain budget-conscious. Three in four (75%) shoppers either often or always look for deals for school items. And nearly 1 in 5 parents will check browser extensions, apps or curated sites to hunt for promo codes, rewards and discounts.

Shoppers return to stores for cash back

The top incentive to return to stores is cash back (23%). This was followed by exclusive in-store deals (20%) and the option to buy items online but pick them up in-store (19%).

While nearly 6 in 10 parents say they feel quite comfortable shopping at physical locations, 1 in 3 expressed they would feel more at ease in stores with safety protocols, such as contactless payment options, hand sanitizer and mask requirements.

To save on back-to-school shopping, parents can also tap into their rewards to help pay for supplies. And if parents have a credit card with revolving categories for higher cashback incentives, they can rack up additional points.

Methodology: Rakuten surveyed more than 1,000 parents in the U.S. with grade school, high school and college students, fielded between June 10 and June 15, 2021.


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